I always did hate my father. A horrible thing to say, I know, but damn him to hell. He’d never been anything but superstitious, abusive, and paranoid. Annoying traits to be raised by, really. I had to sit outside the house until past midnight with his shotgun because he thought vandals were messing around our land. He had no evidence, nothing that couldn’t have been explained by random acts of nature or wandering critters. But in the face of all this supposed danger, what did he do? He slept in his big, cozy bed. He would send me outside after dinner, remind me to stay vigilant and not to leave the porch, and walk his lazy ass up to his bedroom while I kept an eye out for vandals I knew weren’t going to show up.
My Friday morning consisted of pulling weeds from the rose bushes. Rose gardens were a prime investment for any farmer; men never shied away from buying flowers for the women in their lives, especially when they were in the doghouse. My old man beeped the horn as he pulled into the driveway, waving me over to haul his new prize out of the truck bed. Silly me, I thought maybe it’d be mulch, or new equipment we desperately needed, or, God forbid, something useful. Technically, you could consider it field equipment, but technicalities aside, it was the ugliest Goddamned thing I’d ever laid eyes on.
The scarecrow in the back of the Ford was taller than me, and I measured six and half feet. For a crucified man made of hay, it was a flashy dresser, with its black and white plaid flannel, faded jeans, cowboy hat, and steel-toed boots. I didn’t even own a pair of steel-toed boots. It was a terrible investment, but I kept my mouth shut. Dad said he’d taken the thing to be blessed by a priest, but not a priest that worked for the church. Just a guy who needed money and wore the detachable white collar as a way to make morons pony up their money for phony services such as exorcisms, fortune tellings, and, say, blessing a scarecrow. It was supposed to protect us not only from crows, but burglars, murderers, ghosts, werewolves, vampires, and, most importantly, teenage scoundrels. And this priest only did it for five hundred bucks! I didn’t utter a word as I grabbed his newest proof of insanity and walked it to the middle of the field.
I stuck the stake deep in the ground and looked up at him. It was a far cry from the thing in The Wizard Of Oz. The joker who’d put this bad boy together thought it’d be funny to put a Halloween mask on it. Large purple eyes stared at me from its egg-white face, its rubber fangs were as long as my fingers, and its gaping smile revealed a burlap sack beneath. Its blue hair was spiked, standing on end beneath its hat. It sent a chill down my spine in spite of how goofy it looked. Of course the priest was sketchy; a real one wouldn’t have come anywhere near this thing. I walked back to the garden to continue my work, certain I wouldn’t need to mess with it ever again.
My father’s paranoia reached new heights as he grew older. Maybe it was a mid-life crisis, or maybe he was still reeling from the loss of my mother twelve years earlier. Enough was enough, but I wasn’t going to tell him that. He’d beat me enough that I knew when to keep quiet. The purchase of the scarecrow was a lousy investment, but at least I’d have some company for my late night guard shifts.
I worked for a few hours, soaking up the mid-day sun. I was far and away a better farmer than my lazy ass father could have ever hoped to be, and I think he knew it. Why else would he make me do all the work? When he finally did pass on, I’ll have taken this farm to a bright future. I told myself this every day, though I knew my father was much too stubborn to die. Hell, he’d outlive me, more than likely.
Finally, I forced myself to take a much needed break. I wiped the sweat from my brow and chugged the ice water I grabbed from the kitchen. The lawn chair creaked beneath me as I sat in it, threatening to break beneath my weight. That’s something he could have bought: a new lawn chair. But that didn’t involve him; he stopped sitting outside a long time ago, and if it didn’t include my father, it didn’t include my father’s money. He’d rather spend it on ugly scarecrows. I stared at it, disgusted. It gazed back at me.
That was odd, considering I’d deliberately faced it away from the house.
I walked over to it, which in hindsight, might not have been my best idea. I’m not saying I was a believer in the paranormal and all that, but when something’s been turned a hundred and eighty degrees and you were the only one around for three miles aside from the man in the living room watching The Price Is Right, you’re bound to have a few suspicions. I slowly approached it. I didn’t expect it to confess to moving, but some kind of sign would have been nice.
The dead rabbit lying beneath it did nothing to calm my nerves.
It was badly mutilated, the little fur that was left matted with blood and entrails. Its skull was caved in, and the teeth marks on its backside made me think a coyote or a wolf left it there for safe-keeping. I picked it up by its head and threw it in the trash can beside the house. The scarecrow watched from its perch, and I swore it’d pivoted again. I was driving myself crazy; I’d just forgotten how I placed the thing. If I spent the rest of my life on this farm, I was going to end up just like my old man.
And I wouldn’t wish that shit on my worst enemy.
He kicked me awake at dusk. I’d fallen asleep on that old chair like every other night, albeit a bit earlier than usual. He told me to get my lazy ass up, that there was no time for rest when you were a farmer, that me I was completely worthless…you know, the same thing every good father tells their son. I bit back my retort, something along the lines of telling him all he did was sleep, watch TV, and go into town once a week, buying shit we didn’t need. But I just nodded. I couldn’t recall the last time we’d had a conversation that didn’t include him telling me what a piece of shit I was. We’d been at each others throat since my mother died from the brain tumor. Part of me thinks he tried to blame it all on me, somehow, even though he was the one who never shelled out for health insurance, costing me the only person I could count on in this world.
He said he was going to bed and that I needed to keep an eye out for any wrong-doers. There weren’t going to be any. There never were. I would stare at the cornstalks between our home and the open road before falling asleep in my chair. He went inside and left me alone. The mid-spring weather felt perfect. I laid the firearm across my lap and flipped on the porch light, retrieving my book from under the table. Crime and Punishment. I’d secretly bought it on my last trip into town and hid it immediately. Reading’s not important, my old man would say. Taking care of the farm was.
I’d been reading for two hours when a few of the corn stalks began rattling. I looked up reflexively, certain it was the wind, maybe another rabbit. Hopefully it wasn’t the beast that had torn up the first one. The movement ceased. The scarecrow stood tall, staring at the land, just as bored as I was. The fact I thought it’d moved earlier made me chuckle now. Maybe I’d been reading too much fiction. I returned to my page.
More stalks moved, more rough this time around. When I heard the barely stifled laughter, I don’t know what made me angrier; that someone was trespassing or that my father had called it in the first place. I jumped off the porch and ran into the crops, shotgun in hand, yelling at the invaders to stop in their tracks. The scarecrow fell to the ground. It wasn’t enough that the hooligans had to invade my territory, but messing with my scarecrow was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
So, I vowed to break theirs.
I aimed the barrel at the shaking stalks. As soon as the next one moved, I fired, not caring how much corn I destroyed. The gun bucked, numbing my shoulder where the butt slammed backwards. Cursing, I dropped the gun and ran into the stalks, searching for the vandals. I’d hit one of them, a boy a few years younger than me wearing a yellow t-shirt and gym shorts. I got him in the shoulder. From the distance I’d hit him from, he wouldn’t be dying any time soon. He would have made a perfectly fine recovery if he’d been taken to the hospital. I made to haul him up onto the porch and wait for the police to come.
The crops rustled behind me and I was shoved to the ground. Two other boys, one in a green t-shirt and the other in a Cleveland Browns jersey, quickly knelt next to their wounded friend, carrying on about how they needed to get help right away. Instead of worrying themselves with that right then, though, they pummeled and kicked me. Luckily, they were wearing sneakers; if they’d had boots on, I’d have been real hurt after their onslaught. As it was, though, their scrawny legs and poorly-made shoes did little damage. Sooner or later they’d give up and grab their friend, and if they were smart, take him to a hospital.
They stopped assaulting me. I peeked out of the crease between my arms, expecting to watch them carry their friend away. They weren’t doing that. They weren’t doing much of anything besides being dangled in the air like ragdolls.
The scarecrow had each one at the end of a lanky arm, its gloved hands replaced by elegant fingers with nails long as daggers, choking the life out of them. Its face hadn’t changed; the eyes were just as wide, the smile just as frightening, the blue hair just as spiked. The cowboy hat had fallen off in the scuffle. I hadn’t processed what I’d just seen while running back to grab my gun. I returned to threaten them, to tell them they could leave in whatever car they came in or they could leave in the back of an ambulance with a sheet over their corpses.
I didn’t have to worry about how they were leaving. The boy in the Browns jersey was lying on top of the friend I’d shot, unmoving save for the slow rise and fall of his chest. He’d probably fainted. Hell, in hindsight, I should have, too. The scarecrow’s fangs were burrowing into green shirt’s neck, blood spraying like a geyser from the sides of its face. He tried to scream, but his vocal cords had already been ripped to shreds along with everything else between his chest and chin.
He stopped struggling completely, and when the beast raised its head to bathe its blood-covered face in the moonlight, I saw his neck had been completely chewed through, decapitated by nothing more than teeth. It looked at me with its shining, violet eyes, and with a nod my way, let me know I was safe from harm.
I was lost. Should I shoot the thing? Granted, it meant me no harm, but did that mean that I let it harm these (mostly) innocent kids? It might have saved my life, or at the very least, from a worse beating. How easily I could lift my gun and blow it into the crops, killing it forever.
But then I’d have to dispose of the boys. God knows what kind of story they would have told the police. I’d be in an asylum for the rest of my life if I explained to them that I’d only shot the one boy, but my scarecrow came alive and chewed the other one up like a granola bar.
At the sight of the monster, yellow shirt suddenly didn’t care he’d gotten shot; he pushed Brown’s jersey off of him and staggered to his feet, ready to flee.
I hoisted the shotgun and blew him away.
His face exploded like a water balloon as he crumpled back to the ground. Brown’s jersey was awake again, screaming bloody murder. The scarecrow put a stop to the raucous quickly, stuffing its face into the boy’s own. Screams quickly became gurgles from a mouthful of blood.
I wiped the sweat from my forehead, thankful the threat had been dealt with. With the boys dead, I’d disposed of the trespassers my father had correctly predicted. Not only that, but he’d gotten his money’s worth as far as the scarecrow was concerned. I was ecstatic, because he never got his money’s worth on anything.
Their carcasses dwindled quickly as the scarecrow chewed them to the bone, every bit. I watched in awe and horror, mesmerized by what I saw, paralyzed by fear. The fact that it posed no threat to me meant nothing, not when I was standing just a couple yards away from the abomination.
The front door slammed open and my father came stumbling toward us, yelling about motherfuckers in his crops, motherfucking useless son, motherfucking missing scarecrow he wasted good money on. He grumbled all the way to our destination. He pushed past the final few stalks before reaching the clearing and stared slack-jawed at the scene in front of him. Three dead boys, all of them mostly eaten, one with his head blown clean off, his son holding the murder weapon, and the scarecrow he’d just bought crouching between them, blood on its face, a dismembered forearm in hand.
He opened his mouth to speak. Probably wanted to go on about what a no good, murdering bastard of a son he had, or something close enough to that effect it didn’t matter. I didn’t let him say anything. I looked into his mean, bloodshot eyes before I shot him in the heart with his own shotgun.
Looking back on it now, at that moment, I don’t know what possessed me to do that. Maybe it was a sort of blood lust stemming from shooting those two kids? Maybe it was just a culmination of the man treating me like shit for so long?
Or maybe in the end, I’d just felt sorry for him, and what he’d let himself become; a fat, lonely ex-farmer, scared of his own shadow and wasting his life away in front of the tube. He breathed a few more times, tried speaking to me, his only son that had forsaken him. He tried sitting up before the scarecrow straddled his arms and went to work on the last of that night’s meal.
My father was dead, and my life was better off for it.
I lived pretty peacefully after that. I filed a missing person’s report on my father, and of course, even after the police searched around my land, they found nothing. How could they, when the scarecrow had gotten rid of all the evidence?
The farm had never been in better hands. I made a killing. Money poured in, and I could afford all kinds of livestock, and if a few animals went missing in the middle of the night, who was I to blame the scarecrow? We all had to eat.
I tracked down the priest that had blessed the scarecrow for my father, and had him perform the task on a few more of them. Big, scary bastards. He charged me a fair amount since I knew his little secret. We’d put together a team. I couldn’t have the first one, the leader of the pack, stand out there lonely every night. I knew all too well what that was like.
Urban legends trickled slowly through the cracks about the three boys who’d met their demise on my land, and sure enough, the police soon came looking for them, too, just as unsuccessful as the first time they’d come. The captain himself even came out, ironically making a comment on how ugly my scarecrows were before leaving, empty-handed and defeated.
More than half the weekends out of the year saw teenagers, mostly out-of-towners who’d made the drive to see what all the fuss was about, trespassing on my property as a show of courage to their friends.
None of them ever found their way back home. We made sure of that.
Craig Steven is a member of the Horror Writers Association. He doesn’t think he’s deserving of this honor, but accepts it regardless. He’s been published by a bunch of great markets. He used to be the editor for Beyond Imagination and Beyond Science Fiction magazines before they were discontinued. His novel is nearly ready to be sent out to an agent, but he’s been saying that for months. When he’s not writing, he’s watching rap battles or reading. If you want to keep up with him for whatever reason, go to www.writercraig.blogspot.com and watch him try his hand at being a writer, an endeavor that promises to leave him disappointed.
Betty Rocksteady is a Canadian author and illustrator. Learn more at www.bettyrocksteady.com.